Going for Refuge and Taking of Precepts

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Upeksa Meditation Village (Thien Tu Hy Xa) organises the ceremony for Going for Refuge and Taking of Precepts twice each year, one on Buddha Birthday Celebration (usually in May) and another on Ullambana (usually in August). 

When a person wishes to become a Lay-Buddhist, the first step he or she takes is to go to the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha for refuge and take the 5 Precepts. Since the time of the Buddha, taking the Threefold Refuge and 5 Precepts has identified a person as a Lay-Buddhist.

Below are extracts from Buddhanet which provide more information on Going for Refuge and Taking of 5 Precepts. 

Reasons for Taking Refuge
If people observe the world around them carefully, they are bound to notice the pain, suffering and frustrations experienced by sentient beings. A Buddhist will look for a way to end such distressing conditions in life just as a traveller caught in a storm will seek shelter. If the traveller is able to find shelter inside a building that is strong and safe, he will call out to others who are still struggling in the storm outdoors to join him in this safe refuge. Similarly, a person chooses to become a Buddhist when he understands who the Buddha is, and how the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha can provide him the way to end suffering. Out of compassion, he will also encourage others to take the same refuge.

The Buddha, Dharma and Sangha are called the Triple Gem because they represent qualities which are excellent and precious like a gem. Once a person recognises these unique qualities after careful consideration and is confident that the Triple Gem can help lead him towards happiness and Enlightenment, he takes refuge. It is, therefore, not out of mere faith, but with an open-minded attitude and enquiring spirit that he begins to practise the Buddha’s Teaching. In a way, he resembles the scientist who decides to carry out a research project once he is confident that it will bring positive results.

The Buddha
The word Buddha means the “Fully Enlightened One” or “Awakened One”. It is the title given to those who have attained supreme and perfect Enlightenment. Buddhists acknowledge the Buddha as the embodiment of the highest morality, deepest concentration and perfect wisdom. His followers also know the Buddha as the “Perfected One” because He has wiped out desire, ill will and ignorance, and has overcome all unwholesome actions. He has put an end to suffering and is no longer bound to the cycle of birth and death.

The Buddha is the Fully Enlightened One because He has realised the Truth and sees things as they really are. He knows through his perfect wisdom, what is good and what is not good for all beings. Out of great compassion, He shows people the path leading to the end of suffering.

The Buddha’s exemplary conduct, perfect wisdom and great compassion make Him an excellent teacher. By His use of skilful means, He is able to reach out to all His followers so that they can understand His Teaching.

The Dharma
The Buddha taught the Dharma solely out of compassion for sentient beings who suffer in the cycle of birth and death. The Dharma is therefore taught without any selfish motives. It is well-taught and completely good. It is by nature pure and bright like a light that destroys the darkness of ignorance. When the Dharma is studied and practised, it brings many benefits now and in the future.

The Dharma is the Teaching about the nature of life. This Teaching of the Buddha is contained in the three collections of scriptures called the Tripitaka or the “Three Baskets”. These consist of the discourses (Sutra Pitaka) said to have been taught by the Buddha, the rules governing the discipline of the monastic community (Vinaya Pitaka) and the philosophy and psychology of Buddhism (Abhidharma Pitaka).

A Buddhist gets to know about the Dharma by reading the scriptures. He also learns from the writings and explanations of qualified teachers of Buddhism. Once he has familiarised himself with the Dharma through reading and listening, he has to realise its truth for himself by putting it into practice. This means purifying his conduct and cultivating Mental Development until the Teaching becomes part of his own experience.

The Sangha
The Sangha that a Buddhist takes refuge in is the community of Noble Ones who have led exemplary lives and attained extraordinary insight into the true nature of things. Their lives and achievements show others that it is possible to progress on the path to Enlightenment.

However, the Sangha also generally refers to the fourfold community of monks, nuns, men and women lay followers. Monks and nuns are respected for their good conduct and for their experience in meditation. They are also respected for their diligence, mindfulness and calmness. Wise and learned, they are able teachers of the Dharma. They can also be like trusted friends inspiring the lay followers along the path of Good Conduct.

The lay followers accept the Four Noble Truths (http://www.buddhanet.net/e-learning/buddhism/bs-s02.htm) and the other teachings of the Buddha and seek happiness and Enlightenment as their common goal in life. They also uphold common moral values such as avoiding injury to others in any way. Thus a Buddhist can look to other members of the lay community for help and advice in times of need.

Analogy of a Journey
To understand better the idea of taking refuge, one might take the example of a traveller who wants to visit a distant city where he has never been to before. He will surely need a guide to lead him towards his destination. He will need a path to follow. He may also wish to have travelling companions on the journey. A Buddhist working towards attaining happiness and Enlightenment is like the traveller trying to reach that distant city. The Buddha is his “guide”, the Dharma his “path” and the Sangha are his travelling companions”.

A Buddhist takes refuge in the Buddha as his guide because he believes that the Buddha, having attained Enlightenment Himself, is able to guide him towards that goal. The Dharma that he takes as his refuge is like a path that has been well laid out. Such a path may include signposts to show directions, bridges for crossing rivers and steps for climbing mountains. Similarly, the Dharma includes the rules of Good Conduct to help him avoid unwholesome actions and the techniques of Mental Development to help him overcome distractions. It also teaches him how to overcome ignorance and gain Enlightenment.

Taking refuge in the Sangha is like having good travelling companions who keep a traveller company, care for him when he is sick and encourage him along when he is tired. The members of the Sangha, like ideal travelling companions, help the lay follower to purify his unwholesome ideas and correct his behaviour through sound advice and instruction, and encourage him to continue his journey to Enlightenment.

5 Precepts
Essentially, according to Buddhist teachings, the ethical and moral principles are governed by examining whether a certain action, whether connected to body or speech is likely to be harmful to one’s self or to others and thereby avoiding any actions which are likely to be harmful. In Buddhism, there is much talk of a skilled mind. A mind that is skilful avoids actions that are likely to cause suffering or remorse.

Moral conduct for Buddhists differs according to whether it applies to the laity or to the Sangha or clergy. A lay Buddhist should cultivate good conduct by training in what are known as the “Five Precepts”. These are not like, say, the ten commandments, which, if broken, entail punishment by God. The five precepts are training rules, which, if one were to break any of them, one should be aware of the breech and examine how such a breech may be avoided in the future. The resultant of an action (often referred to as Karma) depends on the intention more than the action itself. It entails less feelings of guilt than its Judeo-Christian counterpart. Buddhism places a great emphasis on ‘mind’ and it is mental anguish such as remorse, anxiety, guilt etc. which is to be avoided in order to cultivate a calm and peaceful mind. The five precepts are:

1) To undertake the training to avoid taking the life of beings. This precept applies to all living beings not just humans. All beings have a right to their lives and that right should be respected.

2) To undertake the training to avoid taking things not given. This precept goes further than mere stealing. One should avoid taking anything unless one can be sure that is intended that it is for you.

3) To undertake the training to avoid sensual misconduct. This precept is often mistranslated or misinterpreted as relating only to sexual misconduct but it covers any overindulgence in any sensual pleasure such as gluttony as well as misconduct of a sexual nature.

4) To undertake the training to refrain from false speech. As well as avoiding lying and deceiving, this precept covers slander as well as speech which is not beneficial to the welfare of others.

5) To undertake the training to abstain from substances which cause intoxication and heedlessness. This precept is in a special category as it does not infer any intrinsic evil in, say, alcohol itself but indulgence in such a substance could be the cause of breaking the other four precepts.

Source:
– Becoming a Buddhist (http://www.buddhanet.net/e-learning/buddhism/bs-s17.htm)
– Buddhist Ethics (http://www.buddhanet.net/e-learning/budethics.htm)

For in-depth reading:
Going for Refuge & Taking the Precepts by Bhikkhu Bodhi (http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/bodhi/wheel282.html)

Information for Newcomers and Beginners

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Overview of Buddhism:

Buddhism is not a religion; consequently its practice does not interfere with anyone’s religious beliefs. The various statues of Buddha, Patriarchs & Bodhisattvas at Upeksa Village are not worshipped – those they represent were human beings, not gods; they are venerated for their qualities of enlightenment and compassion, and in gratitude as trailblazers who introduced or fostered Buddhism in Vietnam. It is these same qualities in us, enlightenment and compassion, that we foster through the practice of Buddhism and Thien (Zen) Meditation.

The founder of Buddhism (Sakyamuni Buddha, 5th century BCE) discovered the path to enlightenment after experiencing extremes of indulgence and asceticism. He found neither resulted in happiness nor answered the question of why people suffered, or how to end suffering. In desperation he vowed to sit in meditation until he had attained full enlightenment; eventually realising that the answer lay in a ‘Middle Way’ between these two extremes. Although Buddhism has many different traditions and methods of practice, their foundations all stem from the Buddha’s first sermon which is known as the ‘Four Noble Truths’, that:

  1. Humans suffer (birth, old age, sickness, death, separation, enemies, and disappointments etc.)
  2. That suffering is caused through greed, hate and illusion.
  3. That suffering ceases when the causes for suffering are eliminated.
  4. That meditation is one path leading to the end of suffering.

This path has three qualities:

  • Morality (sila);
  • Concentration (Samadhi);
  • Wisdom (panna)

Therefore the essentials of Buddhist practice are:

  • Not to do any evil;
  • To cultivate good;
  • To purify one’s mind;

This is the teaching of all the Buddhas.

Basic Temple Etiquette:

Shoes worn for outside should be taken off before entering the temple areas.

On entering and leaving the temple area it is considered respectful to turn toward the Buddha altar, bow slightly, with hands held at chest level with palms together, as in the prayer position.

Greeting/leave taking: both hands may be held together in a prayer position at chest level with palms together, and a slight bow given ― this hand position shows wholehearted respect and mindfulness. It is particularly appropriate when interacting with ordained members of the Sangha (Buddhist community).

Address the abbot or teacher as ‘Thay’ (pronounced Tie) and any of the nuns as ‘sister’ as a sign of respect and appreciation of their efforts and devotion to the Sangha.

When in conversation with ordained members’ of the Sangha it is considered impolite to interrupt while they are speaking or to talk over them. At meals: in Vietnamese culture the chopsticks are used to transfer food from a general food source to your bowl or plate; and the spoon is used for individual eating, placing the chopsticks from a communal bowl to one’s mouth and back again is considered impolite and is of course unhygienic.

Bowing, and respectful and dignified behaviour not only show thoughtfulness but demonstrate respect for Buddhist beliefs and for Vietnamese culture and sensibilities – they are behaviours consistent with that of an honoured guest – they also help to develop humbleness.

Upeksa Village was envisioned and brought into fruition through Zen Monk Thich Thong Chieu, with the aid of many dedicated Sangha members and under the auspices of Zen Master Thich Thanh Tu, who in the 1970s undertook a regeneration of Vietnamese Thien (Zen) method, practice, and instruction. The practice at Upeksa Village is in line with these teachings: To reduce mental agitation through meditation; and increase inner peace and happiness.

Liturgy of Formal Lunch

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(A pdf copy of this liturgy in Vietnamese and English is available: Formal Lunch Liturgy)

Making the Offering:
(The right hand held before the middle of the forehead forms the mudra of peace. The left hand holds up the bowl in front of the right hand.)

We offer this food to:
Buddha Vairocana of Essence,
Buddha Locana of Potentiality,
Buddha Shakyamuni of Manifestation,
Buddha Maitreya, yet to be born,
Buddha Amitabha in the Land of Great Happiness,
All the Buddhas in the Ten Directions and the Three Period of Times,
Bodhisattva Manjushri of Great Understanding,
Bodhisattva Samantabhadra of Great Action,
Bodhisattva Avalokita of Great Compassion,
Bodhisattva Mahasthama of Great Force,
All MahaBodhisattvas, Protectors of Dharma.
Maha Prajna Paramitas.

With The Three Qualities and the Six Tastes, we are offering to the Buddha, Dharma, Sangha and all beings. As we are eating, we practice so that the bliss of meditation and joy of dharma turn into the essential food.

The Advice to Eat Mindfully:
The Buddha advises us to be mindful while eating, so as to be worthy to receive the food we are eating. When you hear the sound of the bell, concentrate on the Five Contemplations.
Namo Shakyamunaye Buddhaya

(Holding the bowl to the forehead level)
Holding the bowl which is full
I vow to help all sentient beings
Achieve their Path
So being worthy for this offering

Three vows: (In silence, one line for each spoon)
I vow to avoid any unwholesome actions.
I vow to cultivate wholesome actions.
I vow to purify my mind and to help all beings.

The Five Contemplations:
1. To realize how this food comes about and relates to innumerable efforts.
2. To assess our own virtues so as to be worthy to receive it.
3. To guard our mind against greed, hatred and delusion.
4. To realize foods only to nourish us and prevent illness.
5. We accept this food to achieve the path of understanding and love.

The Heart of The Prajnaparamita Sutra
The Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, while moving in the deep course of Perfect Understanding, shed light on the five skandhas and found them equally empty. After this penetration, he overcame ill-being.
Listen Shariputra, form is emptiness, emptiness is form. Form is not other than emptiness and emptiness is not other than form. The same is true with feelings, perceptions, mental formations and consciousness.
Listen Shariputra, all dharma are marked with emptiness. They are neither produced nor destroyed, neither defiled nor immaculate, neither increasing nor decreasing.
Therefore, in emptiness there is neither form, nor feeling, nor perception, nor mental formation, nor consciousness. No eye, or ear, or nose, or tongue, or body, or mind. No form, no sound, no smell, no taste, no touch, no object of mind.
No realms of elements (from eyes to mind consciousness), no interdependent origins and no extinction of them (from ignorance to death and decay.) No ill-being, no cause of ill-being, no end of ill-being, and no path. No understanding, no attainment.
Because there is no attainment, the bodhisattvas, grounded in perfect understanding, find no obstacles for their minds. Having no obstacles, they overcome fear, liberating themselves forever from illusion and realising Perfect Nirvana. All Buddhas in the past, present and future, thanks to this Perfect Understanding, arrive at full, right and universal Enlightenment.
Therefore, one should know that Perfect Understanding is the highest mantra, the unequalled mantra, the destroyer of ill-being, the incorruptible truth. A mantra of prajna paramita should therefore be proclaimed:
Gate Gate Paragate Parasamgate Bodhi Svaha.

Dedications:
Having finished our meal, we are determined to live for the
benefit of all beings. May all beings wholly realize complete
awakening.

Paying gratitude:
We are grateful to those who contribute to our food; to the
makers of fabric and the tailors who bring us warmth and
comfort; to gracious people who care for us with medicine
and shelter; to our teacher who compassionately teaches us
the dharma.

May we share the merits arising from our practice with those
who generously make offerings.
May their faith in the Dharma be unshakable and their
merits increase.
May all beings, both living and deceased, accomplish the
Buddha Path.
Namo Shakyamunaye Buddhaya.

Verses for Meditation

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In our tradition, verses about the true mind are chanted at the start of our meditation. There are 2 verses, one for the morning meditation and one for the evening meditation.

The verses for meditation below were extracted from the book Stories of Thien – Vietnamese Buddhist Meditation (2009) published by Sunyata Community and Meditation Centre, Western Australia. Permission has been granted to publish these verses here.

Verses for Morning Meditation (3 am)
(Chanted by Bell Master as bell is sounded)

At fifth watch of the night the sun is about to rise.
Our Perfect Wisdom shines in boundless space.
When no thought arises, our mind envelopes the Three Realms.
Realising the equanimity of our True Nature,
we do not stir up any thoughts.
The True Mind appears.
The insight is very deep and beyond our thinking mind.
The more we chase after it, the wearier we become.
With mind and heart disturbed by searching,
we have not understood.
With no thoughts arising, all seeking is fulfilled.

Namo Sakyamuni Buddha
Namo Sakyamuni Buddha
Namo Sakyamuni Buddha

Verses for Evening Meditation (7 pm)
(Chanted by Bell Master as bell is sounded)

First watch of the night has arrived.
Calmly we sit upright and still in meditation.
Like space, our mind is empty, tranquil and luminous.
From beginningless lifetimes,
It has never been born and has never passed away.
Then why worry about birth and death.
Reflecting deeply to see that all phenomena are illusory.
Their nature is empty.
So there is no need to search for them,
Once realising that this mind is formless, be still and undisturbed
and let it manifest itself in perfect equanimity.

Namo Sakyamuni Buddha
Namo Sakyamuni Buddha
Namo Sakyamuni Buddha